WRAL Investigates

Tillis, Hudson call for more support to reduce suicides among military personnel, veterans

Posted November 16, 2021 7:04 p.m. EST

— An estimated 20 active-duty service members or veterans die by suicide every day, and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and 8th District Congressman Richard Hudson said Tuesday that the nation needs to do more to push that number to zero.

Suicides among active personnel increased by 15 percent last year over 2019, according to a Department of Defense report. Suicides in the Army soared by nearly 50 percent last quarter, officials said.

WRAL Investigates reported on the troubling trends last week, focusing on a grieving North Carolina mother who's made it her mission to help military personnel find the mental health help they need.

Gay Murga's son, a captain for the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, took his own life shortly after returning from a tour in Afghanistan during the pandemic last year. She argues that military reintegration programs are severely lacking in helping service members decompress from combat situations when they come home.

Tillis and Hudson agreed that culture needs to change, and they called for detailed plans to help active and retired military cope when they come back. They want to use analytics to track service member health records and experiences to focus on mental health interventions.

"We need to follow that soldier, sailor, Marine, airman all the way through to the point we know they're independent [and] that they're in good mental and physical health," Tillis said. "That's something that we're falling short of, and there's not an oversight hearing the goes by that I don't continue to pound on it."

He wants the military to reassess discharge orders, noting that service members often get other-than-honorable discharges that could be related to traumatic experiences. Such a discharge disqualifies them for medical help from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“If we invest in the VA and get better understanding to the extent we can of that service member’s life events, we may want to go back and revisit some of the eligibilities,” he said.

Hudson said national crisis lines need higher profiles so they can help more people in need.

“I was on the radio in Fayetteville a couple of months ago, and I gave out the hotline number, the crisis line number, and found out a month later that a veteran was listening to the radio contemplating suicide and called that number instead," he said. "We were able to save a life just by providing that number.”

Both Republicans highlighted a congressional resolution naming Nov. 21 as National Warrior Call Day. The resolution urges everyone to check on a veteran or service member who may be struggling and offer support or direct them to the Veteran's Crisis Line.

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